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Biofortified Pearl Millet varieties to reduce Iron and Zinc Deficiency in Low Economy Countries

Dhanashakti, a new high variety bio-fortified pearl millet has been developed by the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics(ICRISAT)

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Picture of a millet field. Wikimedia Commons

Hyderabad, October 15, 2016:  Micronutrient malnutrition because of iron and zinc deficiencies is a serious public health problem in low- and middle-economy countries worldwide.

In India alone, about 80 percent of pregnant women, 52 percent of non-pregnant women, and 74 percent of children in the 6-35 months age group suffer from iron deficiency. About 52 percent of children below five years are zinc deficient.

Iron deficiency causes varying degrees of impairment in cognitive performance, learning ability, lowered work capacity, and pregnancy complications (maternal mortality and babies with low birth weight). Zinc deficiency in children causes stunting, makes them vulnerable to diarrhoea and pneumonia and can lead to death from these infections.

Crop bio-fortification, which refers to the breeding of cultivars with higher levels of micronutrients, is increasingly being recognised as a cost-effective and sustainable approach to overcoming these deficiencies in the food chain.

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Spearheaded by the HarvestPlus Programme of CGIAR (formerly Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research), global crop biofortification research was initiated by several of its centres on 12 crops, including pearl millet. This has led to several success stories based on which HarvestPlus was recognised with the World Food Prize in 2016.

Under the bio-fortification programme, the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth jointly developed a high-iron variety of pearl millet, called Dhanashakti, which was released in 2012 in Maharashtra and later in 2013 across India, making it the first mineral biofortified product of any crop cultivar released in India.

Dhanashakti has 71 mg/kg iron and 40 mg/kg zinc. It was rapidly adopted by farmers, reaching 65,000 farmers by 2015. Dhanashakti seeds are available with Nirmal Seed Company and State Seed Corporations in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

ICRISAT has also developed a high-iron pearl millet hybrid (ICMH 1201), which is being marketed, using Truthfully Labelled Seed (self-certification), by ShaktiVardhak Seed Company under its brand name Shakti 1201.

This hybrid has 75 mg/kg iron and 40 mg/kg zinc (similar to Dhanashakti), but it has more than 30 percent higher grain yield than Dhanashakti. In 2015, Shakti 1201 was adopted by more than 35,000 farmers.

The iron levels in the two biofortified cultivars are much higher than those reported in most of the released and commercial cultivars, which have less than 50 mg/kg iron. The zinc of these cultivars is marginally higher than many of the released and commercial cultivars.

Thus, when talking of pearl millet grains as a rich source of iron and zinc, as commonly assumed, there will be a need to talk in terms of specific cultivars.

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In this context, it should also be noted that these biofortified pearl millet varieties have much higher iron content than the best biofortified rice varieties (less than 5 mg/kg). And many, but not all, also have much higher iron content than the best biofortified wheat varieties (less than 40 mg/kg).

Similarly, many have much higher zinc content than the best biofortified rice varieties (less than 25 mg/kg), but only a few have higher zinc content than the best biofortified wheat varieties (less than 40 mg/kg).

The food uses of biofortified pearl millet varieties will go a long way to reduce iron and zinc deficiencies. For instance, based on feeding trial estimates of 7-7.5 percent bioavailability of iron in whole grain food, and assuming 240 g/day of grain consumption, Dhanashakti and Shakti 1201 would provide much more iron than the daily requirement of 0.84 mg in men, and meet 70 percent of the daily requirement of 1.65 mg in non-pregnant and non-lactating women, and 42 percent of the daily requirement of 2.8 mg in pregnant women. Above grain consumption rate will also provide 80 percent of the recommended daily allowance of 12 mg of zinc.

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Besides reducing the iron and zinc deficiencies, pearl millet has recently been gaining increasing attention as a climate change-resilient and Smart Food crop on account of its high levels of tolerance to drought, heat and soil salinity; and several nutritional traits such as high protein content with more balanced amino acid profile, high dietary fibre, gluten-free protein and phyto-chemicals.

Finally, a word of caution: These biofortified pearl millet cultivars have been developed using natural genetic variability in pearl millet and they are not GMO products. (IANS)

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Indian Kids on Better Global Average for Physical Activity: WHO Study

Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls' participation in physical activity

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To achieve these benefits, the WHO recommends for adolescents to do moderate or vigorous physical activity for an hour or more each day. Wikimedia Commons

While physical inactivity among children aged 11 to 17 is widespread, Indian kids still fare better than the global average, according to a WHO study.

The research, published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, showed that 80 per cent of school-going adolescents globally did not meet current recommendations of at least one hour of physical activity per day — including 85 per cent of girls and 78 per cent of boys.

But compared to the global average, the level of physical inactivity was found to be lower in countries like India and Bangladesh.

While 72 per cent of boys in India were found to be insufficiently active in 2016, 63 per cent boys were insufficiently active in Bangladesh.

At 64 per cent, the boys in the US fared even better than those in India and Bangladesh.

For girls too, the lowest levels of insufficient activity were seen in Bangladesh and India, and are potentially explained by societal factors, such as increased domestic chores in the home for girls.

Lower level of insufficient activity among boys in India may be explained by the strong focus on national sports like cricket, said the study.

The study, based on data reported by 1.6 million 11 to 17-year-old students, found that across all 146 countries studied between 2001-2016 girls were less active than boys in all but four (Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Zambia).

The authors said that levels of insufficient physical activity in adolescents continue to be extremely high, compromising their current and future health.

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While physical inactivity among children aged 11 to 17 is widespread, Indian kids still fare better than the global average, according to a WHO study. Pixabay

“Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity,” said study author Regina Guthold from WHO.

The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle during adolescence include improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and cardiometabolic health, and positive effects on weight.

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There is also growing evidence that physical activity has a positive impact on cognitive development and socialising. Current evidence suggests that many of these benefits continue into adulthood.

To achieve these benefits, the WHO recommends for adolescents to do moderate or vigorous physical activity for an hour or more each day. (IANS)